July 29, 2019
Are You Brand Ready?
Written By: Oliver Griswold
The cause space has officially discovered the power of branding. Since forming our Brand Group at GMMB five years ago, we have seen year-over-year growth in the number of non-profits, foundations, higher education institutions, CSR divisions, and trade associations looking to refresh or overhaul their brand. Mission-driven organizations are motivated by a variety of factors: growing a new donor base, struggling to communicate a through line connecting their disparate programs, redefining an issue or industry, and engaging younger people. These are just a few of the recurring themes we hear from our clients.
Brands on a mission operate differently than brands with a product or service to offer, so it follows that defining their unique identities requires a different kind of journey. Retail brands are often seeking to convince the world that their product is actually based on a bigger idea. Our team is usually charged with the exact opposite: transforming powerful ideas, complex strategies and nuanced outcome measures into something that feels more tangible, more relatable, and more ownable to their audiences. One process is not necessarily more difficult than another, but the complexities of shaping a mission into a brand demand a certain set of prerequisites.
At GMMB, when an organization has completed these prerequisites we consider them “brand ready.” We present them here as we often do in introductory calls with organizations embarking on a rebrand: as a diagnostic tool or intake assessment.
1. Do you have a strategic plan?
Confusing branding with strategic planning is one of the simplest ways to ensure that the process will not achieve its goals. We always ask our prospective clients if they’ve gone through a strategic planning process, because the plan should power a new brand, not vice versa. Your brand is designed to communicate the direction that you’ve set, not set the direction. Hoping or expecting that the brand process can substitute for the hard work of strategic planning work puts too much weight on the process and sets it up for failure.
2. Is leadership bought in?
We love Communications Directors. We love Chief Marketing Officers. Some of us have held these positions, and we work closely with them every day. These are the roles at any organization most likely to see the need for, and get excited about, a refreshed brand identity. That vision and excitement are essential to a smooth rebranding process. But it’s not enough. Before any organization embarks on a journey as intensive as branding, the entire senior leadership – staff and board – should be on board. Some skepticism is ok, but strong resistance is not. That resistance should be managed before the process begins so that it doesn’t turn into opposition when the brand is developed. Branding is fundamentally about change and we all know change is hard. If the leadership isn’t supportive, speed bumps have the potential to derail the project.
3. Has something changed?
There are certainly times when an organization decides it’s time to refresh its identity without a noticeable shift in priorities, target audiences, programs, or the cultural or competitive landscape. It may be that you never deliberately developed a true brand in the first place. But typically rebranding should either respond to, or predict, a significant change in any of these areas. It’s a new story to create new perceptions at a new moment. Brands are not campaigns – we build them to be aspirational so they are durable, not fashionable.
So, are you mission driven and brand ready? We’d love to talk to you about it. Give us a ring, and we can explore the options together.